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Indy 500: Pato O'Ward on battle with Marcus Ericsson before crash

May 17, 2023

INDIANAPOLIS – The seemingly never-ending back-and-forth between Chip Ganassi Racing and Arrow McLaren — where both parties have signed (or attempted to sign) the others’ drivers, sponsors and team officials, with tension typically constrained between Chip Ganassi and McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown — gained a new layer in the closing laps of Sunday's Indianapolis 500.

And if Pato O’Ward is to be believed, it's likely not to be the last.

More than 24 hours after he led a race-high 39 laps, before his spinning one-car crash into the Turn 3 SAFER barrier, the young Mexican driver was still fuming underneath his calm exterior, incensed by the way CGR's Marcus Ericsson raced him as the pair entered Turn 3 dueling for second place on Lap 193, hot off a restart where O’Ward had led the field to the green flag.

Before the entrance to Turn 1, eventual 500-winner Josef Newgarden dove around the outside and overtook both O’Ward and Ericsson (who took the restart second and remained so heading into the backstretch). The Arrow McLaren driver sucked in behind his Ganassi foe, shadowing Ericsson as he swung to the outside line. Then, O'Ward dove back to the inside with what he believed was a good enough run to make a pass.

"The chances of me getting another run like that were going to be very slim," O’Ward told IndyStar at Monday's red carpet for the Victory Banquet, when asked why he attempted what seemed to be a risky pass still with more than seven laps to go. "When you’re third in line, you don't get the runs to get the guy in second. Only the first two cars can exchange (positions).

"And it was a good enough run to get it done."

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NBC's live broadcast footage of the incident seems to show the No. 5 and No 8 cars side-by-side for a fraction of a second as O’Ward (on the inside) and Ericsson (the outside) entered the corner, and a split-second later, O'Ward had fallen a couple feet back before losing all control and launching into more than a full spin, eventually making contact with the outer wall first with his right-rear and then sliding on the outside into the north short chute and eventually coming to a stop.

Upon further review of O’Ward's in-car camera, it does appear as the cars entered the corner, the gap in between them shrunk drastically, which O’Ward confirmed Monday. It wasn't, he said, by his own design, claiming Ericsson "pinched" him down onto the track's apron, where grip at well over 200 mph is tough to find.

"It was my second nature to try and go along with the pinch," O’Ward said, noting he kept trying to inch down the track as he felt Ericsson was forcing him to do, rather than tap wheels and risk both their races. "I didn't want to blatantly take him out, but for sure, in a way, in those types of situations, you have to think for yourself.

"My reaction was, ‘Okay, don't hit him,’ so I started going lower and lower, and before I knew it, he started pinching me even more aggressively. I got off the throttle to try not to crash or take him out, but my problem was I was already on the apron. That's what spat me out."

It's the second time in as many 500s the pair have found themselves side-by-side in the middle of a turn with under 10 laps to go and a 500 win (or the ability to best fight for it) on the line. A year ago, coming off a late-race restart, O’Ward dove outside of the race leader (and eventual winner) Ericsson coming into Turn 1. It even looked as if O'Ward pulled slightly ahead for a moment, but knowing the randomness of what might happen next and whether he, Ericsson or both might end up crashing, O’Ward opted to take his foot off the gas and eventually settle for second and the points boost that came with it.

"This time, the room I gave wasn't reciprocated. (Next time) I’d hold my line. He’ll go make friends with the wall — straight shot," O’Ward said Monday. "If I wanted to be a (expletive) about it, I would’ve just stayed there, and he would’ve done it to himself."

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Sunday after being seen and released from the medical center, O’Ward added: "I was way too nice. I’ll make sure he comes with me next time. I won't forget that one."

O’Ward would finish 24th, ruining his run of three consecutive top-10s to start his 500 career, while Ericsson came within half a lap of becoming the first repeat 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001-02. Still, Ericsson secured the best finish for a defending winner since Castroneves's runner-up finish in 2003.

"Josef, I was very, very excited to see you win (Sunday)," O’Ward made a point to say at Monday's Victory Banquet during his time on stage. Whether that ‘excitement’ was strictly for Newgarden's success (they’ve long held a respectful on-track relationship), or because it wasn't Ericsson, was unclear, but given the emphasis in his voice and his wry smile on stage, O’Ward seemed to leave it up to interpretation.

The 24-year-old's comments about Ericsson follow a spring where he called six-time champion Scott Dixon "a baby" to the Associated Press in the response to learning of the Ganassi driver's lingering public frustrations with how O’Ward raced him at Long Beach. Mid-race, O’Ward dove inside a gap Dixon left between the No. 9 Honda and the apex to Turn 8. O'Ward pulled even, and the pair tapped wheels, sending Dixon out-of-control into the tire barrier, a hit that eventually ended his race duo to a mechanical failure suffered in the crash.

"I wouldn't have chosen to do that, but if that's how the series wants us to race, then I guess it's all gloves off at this point," Dixon said post-race in Long Beach."

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O’Ward would later spin attempting a similar move in the same turn coming off a restart.

"I’ve been racing Scott for a few years. If he feels that was my fault, well, sorry you feel that way, but I don't agree," O’Ward said at the time. "I’m not going to apologize for that. We’re racing, and a lot of times when I’ve been in that situation, I just let the guy go."

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Last July, days after Alex Palou had been sued by his team, CGR, for breach of contract after the young Spanish driver and his camp had attempted to initiate a move to McLaren at the end of 2022 (the sides later settled, and Palou stayed in the No. 10 for 2023), O’Ward made his feelings known about the lack of trust he felt Palou had garnered in the paddock from his off-track exploits.

Next year, Palou (and possibly Ericsson) may end up O’Ward's teammates at Arrow McLaren.

"I think a lot of people knew who he was, but I feel like he’ll say a lot of things and then do the complete opposite, which I don't think is a secret," O’Ward said last summer of Palou. "I think we’ve all seen it. It kinda seems like reverse psychology, so whatever he says, expect the exact opposite."

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